UKZN student protest shuts down classes

2008-03-17 00:00

LECTURES were cancelled indefinitely at the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) yesterday after students began protest action demanding more residential accommodation and the resignation of senior staff at the campus.

Arriving students were stopped from entering the campus in the morning by a crowd blocking the entrance. Students boycotted classes and stopped others from attending lectures and writing tests.

The protesters handed over a memorandum of demands to dean of students, Trevor Wills, watched by police.

Parents called The Witness expressing their anger at the postponement of tests.

A breakfast seminar and talk by former U.S. ambassador James Joseph also had to be cancelled.

Central Student Representative Council (SRC) secretary-general Kwazi Mshengu said students were protesting because demands they made at a meeting with university officials have not been met.

“Since the last meeting we had with management earlier this year, where we agreed to hold off on protest while management tries to find alternative accommodation for approximately 400 students, nothing has been done. We have been raising the issue of accommodation for the past three years.

“There will be no lectures until our demands are met,” said Mshengu.

The Pietermaritzburg campus has five residences that accommodate only about 1 600 of the 8 000 enrolled students. The campus is earmarked as the fourth UKZN campus, after the Westville, Howard College and Edgewood campuses, to have new residences built.

The SRC has demanded that they be put first on the list as the accommodation crisis affects them the most as there is insufficient accommodation in the city.

Also on the list of demands is that students who have been sharing rooms due to the space shortage be exempt from paying for accommodation until they find their own rooms. They also demanded the resignation of the director of student housing and the deputy dean of the campus, whom, they allege, refuses to allow some student events.

Later in the day, a meeting was held between the SRC and campus management, which Wills said went amicably. “We have engaged in discussions with students. The issues are weighty and cannot be resolved overnight, but negotiations will continue,” he said.

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